Wolds Wildlife Park Review

Private collections have always been an interest of mine due to the air of mystery around them and the fact they usually have rare species not seen in most public zoos. A private collection which later opened as a public zoo in Lincolnshire has been high on my "to visit" list ever since I saw it on TV.

The zoo was featured in the documentary Britain's Tiger Kings - On the Trail with Ross Kemp. As it's name suggests, the documentary was made in the wake of the Netflix sensation that was Tiger King and followed a number of private animal collectors in the UK. Fortunately, most of Britain's "Tiger Kings" weren't anywhere near as shady or inhumane as "Joe Exotic" and his various associates. In fact, one of the zoos featured in that documentary actually looked decent.

That zoo was Wolds Wildlife Park, opened in 2018 by scrap metal merchant Andrew Riddel and his wife Tracey. I wanted to visit this zoo a lot earlier but it was closed for the winter, but I did manage to visit it in March 2024.

The zoo is set in 46 acres of land, with most of the enclosures nestled quite close together. There isn't a circuit system in place but most of the enclosures can be viewed without having to go back on yourself. There's both printed and online maps available to guide you.

The approach to the entrance probably wouldn't make a good first impression for most people; it's a path through a muddy lawn, strewn with construction materials, that leads to a shipping container-turned kiosk; it looks more like a construction site than the entrance to a zoo. What many people might not realise, however, is that many of these materials are recycled or reused and they are a big part of what makes up the zoo. On a whole, the zoo is probably the most "recycled" I've ever seen, which surely has something to do with the owner's background in scrap metal.

Once through the entrance, things start to look a lot more prettier. Everything looks new, from the planting and the paths, to the visitor facilities and the enclosures themselves. This zoo is just over five years old, after all. Since we'd just driven two hours and arrived at lunch time, we bypassed a few enclosures to visit the toilets and then the food kiosk. The toilet block was nicely decorated with African patterns (something I'll definitely emulate in my Planet Zoo builds) and the food kiosk had a good selection of hot and cold meals (and was staffed by the owner's wife Tracey). The zoo was quite busy, so there was quite a wait to order and no outdoor seating available, so we instead waited for a free table in a nearby teepee.

With our hunger satiated, we made our way to our first set of enclosures. These belonged to two pairs of lions. The two outdoor spaces were both reasonably-sized and furnished with all the basics (logs, shelters and some climbing frames). Each enclosure housed a pair of lions and they each had access to an off-show den building. One of the enclosures was connected to a cage via an overhead bridge. This cage was occupied by a lone snow leopard, named Aruna, who arrived from Five Sisters Zoo in Scotland last year. The cage wasn't very large, and quite sparsely decorated, but it was just a temporary abode until a new permanent one is built for her (I believe the construction by the entrance is related to this). A later return to this area coincided with a keeper talk which was informative. For another example of the zoo's environmentalism, the cage looked to be built from old telephone poles.

Nearby, a large grassy paddock contained plains zebra, dromedaries, Bactrian camels and emus. It was my first time seeing a dromedary, an animal not common in British zoos, and seeing one alongside two Bactrian camels gave me a unique opportunity to compare them. The zebras here also represented a key part of the zoo's history as they were the forerunners to a collection which soon grew into the zoo.

Not far from this paddock was a large wooden cage containing two cougars. I've been to four zoos with cougars but this was the first time I'd physically seen any, as they're always so elusive. Their enclosure was a good size, but aside from that, a pretty boring landscape with no foliage, only a few rocks and wholly-flat terrain. More climbing opportunities would have been nice too. The enclosure is also elongated in shape and viewed only from its shortest side, meaning the cougars are difficult to view when they are at the back (which is where they were for me). To further obstruct viewing, you can only look into the enclosure through mesh.

Moving on, we viewed a mixed enclosure for African spurred tortoise and Kirk's dik-dik, two species I'd love to see added to Planet Zoo. They had a nice sandy indoor enclosure with good viewing. And then there was a large paddock for rheasllamas, alpacas and goats.

Following these enclosures, we saw the park's primate collection: ring-tailed lemurs, common squirrel monkeys, pig-tailed macaques, brown capuchins and Guianan bearded sakis. Sadly, due to the cold and windy weather, most of these were sheltering indoors. There was a large enclosure in this area which appeared to be shared at different times by each species but it was empty on my visit. It was adequately furnished, with a large tree in the centre, but nevertheless plagued by thick mesh fencing which made viewing difficult. Each species also had an outdoor space of their own which was obviously smaller but furnished quite nicely. Some of these also featured glass viewing windows. The Guianan bearded sakis are a rarity in captivity and had a tall cage with some adequate climbing opportunities but the zoo could have done more with the vertical space available. Their indoor enclosure, whilst decently-sized, looked more utilitarian than naturalistic with tiled walls and flooring. At least the lemurs fared better with a natural substrate, faux rock and dead tree branches for climbing. The macaques and squirrel monkeys didn't have any on-show indoor areas from what I could see, so were a complete no show for my visit. The capuchins were featured in a walkthrough enclosure but this was closed during my visit and, rom the outside, it didn't look very large.

Across from the primates are two outdoor enclosures for South American tapir and capybaras, both with sizeable ponds. Their indoor housing was also viewable but was little more than a bare concrete room with a pool on one side. Nearby, we visited a pair of Eurasian lynx which lived in a mid-sized cage with a few climbing opportunities and only one or two bushes for landscaping. The front of the enclosure was also hidden behind an undulating wall of logs — pretty I suppose but a definite hindrance to viewing.

The next area of the zoo was dominated by its large carnivorans, a quartet of Bengal tigers, spotted hyenasEurasian brown bears and Indian leopard. The leopard was first up, snoozing in its indoor enclosure. However pure the individual was, it represented a rare subspecies in captivity and is only found in one other European zoo. In a common theme for this zoo, its outdoor enclosure was fairly spacious but devoid of any landscape features. The leopard, tigers and hyenas could be viewed via a long corridor, named the Hyenas Walkthrough, which provided much-needed glass viewing. The Bengal tigers, both ex-circus animals, had a decent outdoor space with a small pool, raised platforms, a large pile of rocks and some climbing logs. There was also a Land Rover positioned partly through the fence which allowed you to sit in the front seats for a closer look. A Chinese-themed building accommodated the tigers whenever they went indoors. The final enclosure belonged to the spotted hyenas — a very active pair which lived in a large grassy enclosure, complete with a pool. The glass viewing window gave me a nice up-close experience with the animals. The outdoor enclosures all had a thick concrete lip around them, presumably to prevent digging or wear on the grass.

The two Eurasian brown bears had a large enclosure which featured a big pool, some rocks and dead logs, but very little else in the way of landscaping. It compared very unfavourably to other brown bear enclosures in the UK due, mostly, to its lack of vegetation. The guard rail for this enclosure was also an approximate six foot tall wrought iron railing which made viewing difficult. Their housing was nearby but I'm unsure if any of it was on-show.

Opposite the bears was a fairly nondescript enclosure for Bennett's wallabies — easy to miss when positioned in the shadows of the bears which take most people's attention. On the way to the exit, we passed the two enclosures we bypassed on the way to food, for ring-tailed coatis and raccoons. Both enclosures were fairly similar; both built on a hillock with some raised shelters, a few climbing frames and some plants. Both had glass viewing windows, as well as low walls to facilitate good viewing. The racoons also had access to a natural pond. All things considered, both good enclosures.

Of course, a zoo visit isn't complete without a browse of the gift shop. The one at Wolds was pretty small but it had all the merchandise you'd expect, including lots of zoo branded ones.

Overall, Wolds Wildlife Park is a small but interesting collection which has its heart in the right place as shown by its environmentalism and conservation efforts (the zoo is involved in at least two conservation programmes and there's lots of informative signage and keeper talks). It has also rescued/rehomed numerous animals. Both of the owners are clearly passionate about the zoo and the animals they care for and have invested a lot of time, effort and money into making it work so well for both the animals and visitors alike. They've had lots of hands-on involvement with everything from the construction of enclosures to staffing food kiosks. Needless to say, despite the comparisons in Britain's Tiger Kings, they have nothing in common with Joe Exotic.

With that being said, the young zoo obviously isn't perfect. Most of the enclosures follow the same principle of being a grassy lawn with a few logs thrown in for climbing. There needs to be more landscaping and especially vegetation. Viewing areas could also be improved, with more glass rather than mesh. Unsurprisingly, the highlight of my visit was the up-close encounter I had with a spotted hyena, which was only possible through glass.

The collection also needs to diversify away from mostly mammals. The only non-mammalian animals I can remember are the rheas, emus, parrots and tortoise. Space may be at a premium but I'd say there's enough room for a few more aviaries or a reptile house.

I can see myself returning to this zoo in future if there's any significant developments. Planning permission was approved for a sizable expansion in 2019 but it looks like those plans were either set back or cancelled by the pandemic.